The European Space Agency has partnered with a number of groups including architects Foster + Partners to test whether structures could be 3D printed on the Moon using lunar soil. In the future, this could offer a simpler way of facilitating lunar settlement using local materials.
Foster + Partners designed a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome with a cellular structured wall to protect against micrometeoroids and space radiation, and a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts.
UK firm Monolite supplied a D-Shape printer, with a mobile printing array of nozzles on a six meter frame to spray a binding solution onto a sand-like building material that built up layer by layer. Monolite founder Enrico Dini explains:
First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with. Then for our structural ‘ink’ we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 m per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 m per hour, completing an entire building in a week.